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Meeting the team behind the world’s biggest blanket fort

The field by Oculus at Warwick University campus will be the home of a potential world record as a team of volunteers attempt to build the world’s biggest blanket fort on Wednesday 20 June.

The volunteers aim to raise £10,000 for Leamington Winter Shelter (LWS), which was set up as a temporary service by two Warwick medicine students in the winter of 2015/16 to provide support during the harsh winter. Three years on, LWS is open all year round with over 40 guests per night and is run entirely by community volunteers. However, their current building – located at the Old Priors Club on Clemens Street, Leamington Spa – faces conversion into student flats, and so LWS are currently raising £60,000 to renovate a permanent, new premises.

In an interview with BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire, the chair of the project, Emma Clifford, revealed that she came up with the idea of a blanket fort fundraiser after watching an episode of Community. She recruited friends and fellow students onto the project, all from a mixture of academic backgrounds, forming her six-member strong team.

The volunteers aim to raise £10,000 for Leamington Winter Shelter (LWS)

The team are hoping to recruit 200-250 volunteers to help build the blanket fort, which has been designed to cover the entire area of the Oculus field. These volunteers are likely to range from students to members of various societies teaming up to fundraise. As a minimum, each volunteer must raise at least £40 and complete a shift, placing blankets onto the potentially record-breaking structure. The event has caught the attention of many, with societies such as Warwick Surf, Warwick Snow and Warwick Mixed Hockey all signing up to volunteer.

It is important to take a closer look into what is set to be the biggest student-led fundraiser in term three at Warwick. We spoke to three of the six-member team – Fiona Jackson, Romy Viviani and Lucy Larner – to find out what they have in store for the big day.

With only two weeks to the big day, the team first spoke of how “a lot of things are up in the air at the moment”. Despite this, the event is set to be successful with the day also coinciding with the popular food market on the piazza and entertainment on the day set to be varied. Romy added that “we’re hopefully planning on having inflatables there too, with an inflatable disco…and foam inflatables”. In addition, the after-party (styled as a ‘Slumba Rumba’) will involve the likes of HUSH, Love Frequencies and Keep The Faith making it what the organisers of the blanket fort promise will be “one of the biggest end of year nights out”.

For Fiona, Romy and Lucy, the team felt compelled to select LWS as their chosen charity because “there seems to be to be a high percentage of homeless people in Leamington”. Surviving harsh weather conditions is an unfortunate reality of homelessness, especially considering the heavy snowfall that hit the local area back in February and March when the team were discussing the project. The team unanimously agreed that “homelessness is surprising in Leamington because it’s such a small town”, suggesting that Leamington is “quite a posh place which disguises it”. Fiona captured what was at the heart of this project in a single sentence: “when you take a closer look, you can see the sleeping bags on the parade. All is not as it seems in Leamington”.

As homelessness rises significantly throughout the area (and with the Warwick district having the highest rate of rough sleepers in the West Midlands), the team hope the blanket fort project will help raise awareness of the issue. While it is difficult to predict  the actual impact this event will have in combating homelessness within Leamington and Coventry, the project organisers remain optimistic that change can occur if students continue to make a difference by taking on new projects to help the local community.

When you take a closer look, you can see the sleeping bags on the parade. All is not as it seems in Leamington

This principle was reiterated by Romy who believes that it starts with the small things, explaining how Fiona worked for the Chemistry department at one of the latest university open days in which Warwick Conferences provide large platters of sandwiches and food for the guests. Offering her first-hand experience of these events, Fiona remarked how “at the end of one of these open days, there was so much food left over and they were just going to throw it away and waste it so they asked us to take anything we wanted home”. To avoid wastage, Romy and Fiona decided to load their car with as many sandwiches as they could and drove back to Leamington with the food, where they handed them out on the parade. Just as they all are committed to helping others through this blanket fort event, Fiona continues to be passionate about making small differences in this way, commenting on how “it’s something that’s so easy to do but it makes a difference”.

When asked whether Warwick students are doing enough to help the local community, Fiona, Romy and Lucy brought up the ‘Warwick bubble’ – the phenomenon that describes how “it’s so easy to get wrapped up in your own lives at Warwick”. This is largely due to students becoming consumed with both university and campus life, as well as society commitments and part-time jobs on top of their degree work. Together, all of this means it can be difficult to find time to volunteer in the local community. Increased studentification means that “locals and students don’t always see eye-to-eye, so if students helped out more in the local area, [locals would] probably see students and the university in a more positive light, which is important,” explained Fiona.

Despite the existence of on-campus societies such as Warwick RAG and many sports clubs and societies selecting a new charity to fundraise for each year, the blanket fort organisers pointed out that the focus tends to be largely on national charities. Lucy stressed that in focusing on national charities, societies neglected helping the charities within the local community, but sees that this is gradually changing. Romy, however, added: “as an international student, I feel like English people in general do quite a lot in comparison to other places. I’m personally from France and people here do things like running marathons, etc. to raise money which is a lot from a French point of view.” The fact that there are lots of charitable events and volunteering opportunities to get involved with at university should serve to spark the interests of many students.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in your own lives at Warwick

Attempting to build the world’s biggest blanket fort will certainly attract both Warwick students and nearby residents alike, with the team gathering support from businesses such as McDonald’s, Tesco and Specsavers as well as liaising with local newspapers. Speaking to Fiona, Romy and Lucy, their hope that the event will generate more accessible student-led charity events was clear; more of these events could happen particularly in term three, when students are free from exams and extra time can be used more productively.

The aim is to enter the Guinness World Records for building the biggest blanket fort, with the 200 blankets required being donated to homeless shelters and charities across the local area after the event. The team still need blankets, which can be dropped off at Leamington Spa Town Hall as well as the Rootes laundrette on campus.

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